Spared On 911, Army Sgt
Dies In Sleep In Iraq

The Hartford Courant Staff and
Wire Reports

He escaped death when a hijacked jetliner slammed into his Pentagon office on Sept. 11, 2001, only to have illness take his life while serving in Iraq.
The family of Staff Sgt. Richard S. Eaton Jr., a U.S. Army counterintelligence analyst, was notified of his death Tuesday. A fellow soldier, serving with him in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, tried to wake Eaton, 37, and noticed he wasn't breathing, according to a Defense Department statement released Wednesday.
"He loved the military. He loved this country, and this was his life in many respects, his identity," Eaton's father, Richard S. Eaton, said. "Somebody said ...that he was born to the military, but he wasn't. It was just that he loved it."
The family has few details about Eaton's death, his father said, and do not know whether Eaton died from a strain of pneumonia that has killed other servicemen.
Maj. Bill Adams, the region's casualty assistance officer, said the cause of death remains under investigation but is thought to be pulmonary edema.
Guilford First Selectman Carl A. Balestracci, a retired teacher, said he taught American history to the younger Eaton. "That was one of his favorite subjects," Balestracci said.
The first selectman said Guilford will "fold in around the family and be as supportive as we can be.
"We are standing by as a community," he said. "We will do what the family would like us to do. The VFW and the American Legion are standing by."
Gov. John G. Rowland expressed "tremendous sadness" over the death of Eaton, the fourth state serviceman to die while deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"His devotion and courage to serve is an example to uphold for all future generations," said Rowland, who ordered all state flags to be lowered to half staff until the day of Eaton's funeral. "His life's lesson of faithful service to others will never be forgotten."
The elder Eaton, a spokesman for the University of New Haven, said his son's usual office in the Pentagon was being remodeled at the time of the terrorist strike. He said his son, who was working for the Defense Department as a civilian at the time, was in a temporary office away from the Pentagon when the military headquarters was hit by the commandeered airliner.
"As serious as he could be at work, he had the ability to joke in a very dire situation," Eaton said. "His mother was able to get him on his cell phone, and he says, `I'm going to a kebab restaurant. Right now, it's the safest place in Washington to be.'"
The younger Eaton rejoined the military after the attacks and was with the Fort Meade, Md.-based 323rd Military Intelligence Battalion, which deployed to Iraq in March, said his mother, Sharon Noble Eaton.
Her son, who friends and family called "Rick," was not married and had no siblings, she said.
"Thirty-seven years with Rick is the glass half-full," Sharon Eaton said. "He was one hell of an interesting kid. It was like having 10 kids."
Eaton knew from an early age that he wanted to enter the military, his father said. He grew up listening to stories about family members who served in the armed forces.
A portrait of Civil War Gen. Amos Eaton, with a stern face and bushy beard, hangs over the family fireplace along with his Civil War sword. Another ancestor, William Eaton, helped reinstate the deposed leader of Tripoli and rescue American captives in the early 1800s.
Both of Eaton's grandfathers were veterans who loved to tell the boy stories of their service. One was in the cavalry in World War I; the other was a pilot in World War II.
As a high school student Eaton had his heart set on joining the Army, but took a car trip to more than a dozen college campuses to please his parents and talked about majoring in botany or engineering.
Back home, his father told him he had to make his own decision. The young man went to the local recruiting office and brought a recruiter home to meet his parents.
"He said, `He's old enough to enlist himself at 18, but he really wants your approval'," the elder Eaton said. "Then he explained that they could give him the best work that the military had to offer."
The younger Eaton was offered a place at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., but declined because he believed "real soldiering" was done in the field, his father said.
In the years that followed he spent close to 10 years in Korea and had appointments in Honduras, Panama and El Salvador.
Trained to be secretive about the details of his work, the younger Eaton was not someone who talked about his accomplishments, his father said.
"The person we know and the military person are, in a way, two different people because the requirements of the job were such that people didn't know what he did," Eaton said.
Other Connecticut soldiers who have died in operations in Iraq are Pfc. Wilfredo Perez Jr. of Norwalk, one of three Army soldiers to die in a grenade attack July 26 while guarding a children's hospital in Baquouba, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad. Marine Cpl. Kemaphoom Chanawongse, 22, of Waterford, and Marine Gunnery Sgt. Philip A. Jordan, 42, of Enfield, both were killed March 23 in firefights outside the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.
Courant Staff Writers MaryEllen Fillo and Loretta Waldman contributed to this story. Material from the Associated Press is included. is Copyright © 2003 by The Hartford Courant




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